Place in England's heart the reward for patient Barry

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The Independent Football

He is self-effacing, uncomplaining and, in demeanour as well as style, a bit of a throwback but it is clear that Gareth Barry expects to retain his place in the heart of England's midfield for Saturday's European Championship qualification match at home to Estonia.

There is caution in his voice – "I feel that if selected I can do the same job again..." – but also belief when he added: "I think the manager will realise that." But it has taken England managers many years, seven in all, to realise Barry's worth.

Sure there needed to be a maturity to his game – he is 26 now – and, in fairness, there was hardly a clamour for his selection during that time. But being excluded from his country's squad for three years appears nothing short of a dereliction.

"It's a long time in football," Barry, who will win just his 13th cap, acknowledged yesterday. "And people have got their own ideas. When your name isn't mentioned for so long you sort of do give up hope. Now it's nice for my name to be mentioned in a positive way. Sometimes it's also hard when you are in squad after squad and not playing. You wait for your chance and in the last two games my chance came."

Barry is revelling in his involvement following the impressive partnership he forged with Steven Gerrard in the qualifiers against Israel and Russia. Frank Lampard is back after injury but may have to be accommodated elsewhere in the midfield. "There's no big rivalry," Barry said. "Nobody really talks about the team too much; maybe you'll wait for the team to be selected and then have a chat."

The assimilation of the Aston Villa captain into the England side has been aided by his friendship with Gerrard – a bond forged when the two roomed together during Euro 2000 – but, more importantly, by his own temperament. "You come into these games and in international football you have to be mentally strong," he said. "I think I've got that in my game."

Nerves were also not a problem. "I've been pushed around the park for years so I don't get nervous about playing in a new position," he said. "I've also played at Aston Villa for so long that there's no nerves there." From central defender to left-back, to left midfield – but it was Martin O'Neill who, last year, fully recognised Barry's worth in the centre of midfield.

"One of the first things he came in and said to me 14 months ago [when O'Neill was appointed Villa manager] was 'if you stay with me at Aston Villa, I think you'll improve as a player and you'll eventually get your England call-up again'.

So he's somebody to listen to and eventually he's been proven right, which goes to show he's a clever manager." The conversation was opportune in that, last year, after eight seasons and more than 300 games for Villa, Barry was considering whether it was time to move on, with Portsmouth showing most interest. "It was always a big decision whether to try a new club, about whether it would be good for my career," he said. "But certainly when I heard he was arriving that got me thinking straight away that it might be best sticking around."

The progress being made under O'Neill has helped banish the gnawing feeling that Barry has somehow underachieved. "When you leave school early and join a big club like Villa," he said. "You set yourself targets. To break into the first team reasonably early, and I broke into the England squad early too, so some would say I should have had a better career so far."

He is in the process of rectifying that, although a recall for Lampard, at his expense, would be a severe setback and would also be an indication that reputation still remains the prerequisite for national selection. "Until the decision is made I'm not sure how disappointed I'll be," Barry admitted.

Disappointment has tinged his career. Although he has not often expressed it publically it was, according to his former manager Graham Taylor, something that he did not hide either. But Taylor also recognised a special quality Barry possesses. "He is a good advert for never giving up," he said. And England would be wise to continue to reap that benefit.

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